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Why I’m voting against I-522

by Brandon on November 2nd, 2013

If you don’t live in Washington state, you might be unaware of this year’s controversial ballot initiative, I-522. In short, it’s a law which proposes that some foods deemed as “genetically engineered” or containing “genetically modified organisms” must be labeled as such in grocery stores.

I first became aware of this initiative two or three months ago via a sign posted at my local PCC where I buy most of my groceries. It was endorsing the initiative. My first thought was, “Oh, I haven’t heard about a battle over genetically engineered/modified foods, but if there is one, labeling seems like it could be a reasonable compromise.” A moment later though, I thought, “What do they mean by genetically engineered? I hope the actual initiative is very specific about what’s labeled and why! It would be silly if every edible banana needed a label just because edible bananas don’t exist in nature.”

That was about the end of my thinking on the subject for quite a while. Then a month or so ago I began hearing more discussion about it, and seeing a lot of propaganda – all in support of the initiative. And all sponsored by PCC or Whole Foods. Finally, I saw an emotionally charged tweet with the hashtag #LabelGMOs and I replied to inquire why the tweeter considered this to be an important issue.

I decided to do some research to learn about the nature of the initiative and the facts and arguments applicable to the discussion. At first blush, I was unable to find anything to support the initiative. Well, nothing other than myths and emotional diatribes from non-experts with no sources to back up any of some fairly outlandish claims. On the opposing side I immediately found well-stated, sourced, logical objections from well-respected groups such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science who say, “Legally Mandating GM Food Labels Could ‘Mislead and Falsely Alarm Consumers’,” and the American Medical Association (PDF).

The AMA report’s conclusion is:

Despite strong consumer interest in mandatory labeling of bioengineered foods, the FDA’s science-based labeling policies do not support special labeling without evidence of material differences between bioengineered foods and their traditional counterparts.  The Council supports this science-based approach, and believes that thorough pre-market safety assessment and the FDA’s requirement that any material difference between bioengineered foods and their traditional counterparts be disclosed in labeling, are effective in ensuring the safety of bioengineered food.   To better characterize the potential harms of bioengineered foods, the Council believes that per- market safety assessment should shift from a voluntary notification process to a mandatory requirement.  The Council notes that consumers wishing to choose foods without bioengineered ingredients may do so by purchasing those that are labeled “USDA Organic.”

Someone supporting the initiative then sent me a link to the World Health Organization’s FAQ on the issue, apparently without reading it. It echoes the sentiments of the AAAS and AMA. As do the European equivalents of these organizations, such as the OECD and EFSA. So what gives?

My next step was to look at the text of the initiative itself. Oddly enough, it seems many of the big sites promoting I-522 have links to read the text which are broken. Fortunately you can get the full thing from the WA Secretary of State site in PDF form here. As I read the text I was overwhelmed with incredulity, and here’s why:

1) It provides no context for its definition of “genetic engineering”

522 immediately begins throwing around the phrase “genetic engineering” with absolutely no effort to establish the scope of its meaning. As any biologist will tell you, generic engineering is not new and can be accomplished through a variety of means going back thousands of years. The earliest banana cultivars are believed to have been created between 5000 and 8000 BCE. The bananas and many other plants you and I eat today are hybrids which are initially sterile and then made fertile using polyploidization. Neat stuff, but not newsworthy.

Of course, most anti-GMO advocates will immediately cry that GE techniques like hybridization and artificial selection are not covered by their definition of “genetically engineered” or “genetic modification.” But the fact that the initiative makes countless claims using this term before making any effort to establish what it applies to is incredibly disconcerting.

Later, 522 establishes a definition of “genetically engineered” that is more specific. However, it gives no context regarding other forms of genetic engineering that exist, nor does it provide any basis for choosing the particular scope it has selected.

2) It cites no sources.

The initiative says:

Polls consistently show that the vast majority of the public, typically more than ninety percent, wants to know if their food was produced using genetic engineering.

Which polls? What question was actually asked and which options were given as answers? Why is this an argument for labeling? Everyone knows you can get ridiculous poll results by asking biased and uneducated groups questions which they’re ill-equipped to answer. Keep in mind that many polls also show nearly 90% of Americans don’t “believe in” evolution. You know, the thing that makes genetic engineering possible.

It also says:

United States government scientists have stated that the artificial insertion of genetic material into plants, a technique unique to genetic engineering, can cause a variety of significant problems with plant foods.  Such genetic engineering can increase the levels of known toxicants in foods and introduce new toxicants and health concerns.”

Which scientists? Where did they say this? I scoured the web and literary databases and can’t find anything which looks like it would fit this description. How are they allowed to make claims like this without a single source? There are more examples of this which are just as outrageous.

3) The labeling it prescribes is not useful.

The initiative explicitly says that is does not require the identification of which components were genetically engineered nor how they were engineered. The only plausible argument for labeling which I’ve heard thus far is that “If a health issue is ever found in a GMO product, the label will help us avoid them.” But that’s not true, any more than a “grown with pesticides” label would help deal with an issue attributed to a specific pesticide.

This is because every GMO (even using the narrow definition the initiative eventually establishes) is completely unlike every other. There is absolutely nothing in common between them. All it says is that some modification is made. There are dozens of unique modifications in widespread use today, and undoubtedly new ones will come in time. If you really want to “know what’s in your food,” you’ll at least need a label telling you what was modified and which modification(s) were used.

4) It’s full of exemptions with no justification for their inclusion.

The bill exempts animal products (such as dairy and meat/poultry) where the animal was fed or injected with GE food or drugs. It exempts cheese, yogurt, and baked goods using GE enzymes. It exempts wine (in fact, all alcoholic beverages). It exempts all ready-to-eat food, such as the hot food bars at PCC and Whole Foods. It exempts all “medical food” (without defining the term). Particularly odd for a bill which claims to be looking out for health concerns.

So who wrote this thing anyway?

The author of I-522 is Chris McManus, an advertising executive from Tacoma.  When asked about the details of the bill, he told Seattle Weekly:

“Well, you know, I’m not a scientist.  I work in media. Those kinds of questions I’ll have to defer to later in the campaign.”  (source)

How encouraging!

What does the science actually say?

My next task was to dig into actual scientific literature to see where the claimed health concerns were coming from, and to better understand the processes being used and research into their effects. Here’s what I found:

1) Currently marketed GMO products are safe

As the AMA, WHO, and others I linked to earlier called out, all research into existing GMO products has shown them to be as safe as their conventional counterparts. There have been zero cases of a health issue attributed to the presence of GMOs in food. (Source: Meta-study by Herman and Price)

2) Substantive equivalence is a useful tool

Government standards in the US and around the world require GMO products to establish “substantive equivalency” with their conventional counterparts and to identify and thoroughly test the effects of any deviation from this standard.

This is not to say that assessing the effects of GMOs is without challenges. However, researchers such as Harry Kuiper point out that many conventional foods contain some degree of toxic or carcinogenic chemicals and thus our existing diets have not been proven to be safe. This does mean that changes due to genetic modification could increase the presence of as-yet-unidentified natural toxins or anti-nutrients. However, this also means that positive changes can be missed just as easily. Bt Corn, for example, has been found to have lower levels of the fumonisins found in conventional corn (source).

More importantly, there is nothing anywhere to suggest that modern GMO techniques are more likely to result in such unintended and unidentifiable changes than traditional GE techniques or even “organic” cultivation. In fact…

3) Modern GMO techniques appear to be safer

More and more research is revealing that modern transgenic GMOs contain fewer unintended changes than result from traditional breeding and even environmental factors. (source, another source, another source).

Transgenics are GMOs produced by artificially transferring genes from a sexually incompatible species and tend to get the most attention from those objecting to genetic modification. Note that the term GMO also applies to cisgenic modifications (where the exact same methods are used to transfer genes from another of the same species or a sexually compatible one). I-522 makes no distinction between these concepts.

One reason GMO techniques appear to be safer is that they’re able to make more targeted changes. This illustration conveys a simplified view of these different GE methods:

561px-Breeding_transgenesis_cisgenesis.svg[1]

Image source

Why do PCC and Whole Foods support I-522?

Because they’re businesses, and I-522 will make them more money. This poses an issue for fans of these “lifestyle” brands, because they generally associate them with good, wholesome values they share. However, these stores already sell largely non-GMO products. In fact, there are multiple certifications used throughout these stores which guarantee an absence of GMO material. These include USDA Organic and the Non-GMO Project (an organization who will provide a non-GMO label for products matching their standard in exchange for a fee).

Thus far I’ve stuck to pure facts with sources to back them up. If I may indulge myself in one paragraph of speculation, I will ask you to consider the list of exemptions included in I-522 and ask yourself where they came from. Then look at the products these stores sell which do not have opt-in organic certifications. I find it unlikely that the near complete overlap of these lists is an accident. However, this is just speculation on my part. If there is any hard evidence that the bill was crafted specifically such that these stores would experience no changes, I would be very interested in seeing it.

Whether done intentionally or not, though, the end result is the same. These stores will not have to change the products they offer, and because I-522 specifically calls out that USDA Organic and Non-GMO Project certified products require no additional scrutiny, their prices will not be affected. However, the same is obviously not true for their competitors like Safeway and QFC. These stores will see price increases.

Why would this cause prices to increase?

Farmers who already use non-GMO products, but who currently do not opt into a certification program, will have to pay for that program to avoid having a scary label added to their wares. That means they’ll have to increase prices. The large swath of producers who do use GMO products, or who are unable to guarantee their absence, will not only have to suffer sales effects from a misleading label, but will have to incur the costs of adding it. It’s difficult to say who will be hit harder, but the fact that this law will add cost to the system and thus result in higher prices is impossible to deny.

But why is it bad to know more about what we’re eating?

All else being equal, it’s not. But as I alluded to early in this post, the proposed label doesn’t tell you anything about what you’re eating, and all else is not equal. The spectrum of possible labels we could put on food to “inform” buyers is endless. We could put a label saying a food includes ingredients from crops which were sprayed with any kind of pesticide. We could label products made with unfiltered water (which will undoubtedly be lavished with support from Brita and Pur!). Hell, we could label products harvested using red tractors (no commie wheat!). But we don’t do these things because mandatory labels mean cost and bureaucracy. Regulation of the food industry is crucial to health and safety, but to be effective it must be based on science and facts, not emotional reactions. Support for I-522 seems to be largely based on what Stephen Colbert calls “truthiness.” While some things may feel right to your gut instinct, that doesn’t mean they are.

Where can I learn more?

The links embedded throughout this post provide a wealth of information about the subject. However, they barely scratch the surface. Some additional resources you may find useful include:

Biofortified (an independent educational non-profit from Wisconsin) provides a really great in-depth breakdown of I-522 and the associated controversy.

Wikipedia has a large page dedicated to the controversies around GMOs. It includes a lot of great summarization of the science and history of these issues, and is a great hub for finding references pertaining to all aspects of these issues.

There are numerous meta-studies which compile and assess the results of research spanning the peer-reviewed scientific literature. One example I linked to earlier is Herman and Price’s paper, Unintended Compositional Changes in Genetically Modified (GM) Crops: 20 Years of Research.

From → Politics

27 Comments
  1. Bruce permalink

    If we talked for yen minutes you would change your mind, unless you are being paid to write this.

  2. What an obnoxious comment. Both insulting and supremely unhelpful. If you have information to share, share it. Or are you suggesting you would pay me to change my mind?

  3. Bruce permalink

    The text of the initiative clearly states the definition of “genetic engineering”:

    (3)(a) “Genetically engineered” means any food that is produced
    from an organism or organisms in which the genetic material has been
    changed through the application of: (i) In vitro nucleic acid techniques including recombinant deoxyribonucleic acid techniques and
    the direct injection of nucleic acid into cells or organelles. In vitro nucleic acid techniques include, but are not limited to, recombinant deoxyribonucleic acid or ribonucleic acid techniques that use vector systems and techniques involving the direct introduction into the organisms of hereditary material prepared outside the
    organisms, such as micro-injection, macro-injection, chemoporation,
    electroporation, micro-encapsulation, and liposome fusion; or (ii)
    fusion of cells, including protoplast fusion, or hybridization techniques that overcome natural physiological, reproductive, or recombination barriers, where the donor cells or protoplasts do not fall within the same taxonomic family, in a way that does not occur by natural multiplication or natural recombination.

    I am sorry you were insulted but perhaps you should read what you are writing about before you write it.

  4. Bruce permalink

    Brandon, Monsanto and food processors that use gm ingredients spent 21 million dollars to defeat this initiative. It is simply not beyond them to pay bloggers to help defeat the measure. Being insulted is what is not helpful, if you were not paid then just disclose that. Like you wrote, “…If you have information to share, share it.”

    It sure seems suspicious that you shop at a store PCC where they have been discussing this issue for 13 years, and relate that you did not know about it.

    Your #1 issue is: 1) It provides no context for its definition of “genetic engineering”

    Is simply untrue and when you make comments like that it is VERY suspicious.

    Again, if you were not paid to write this, why would you be propagating untruth? That is what “propaganda” is.

  5. Bruce permalink

    One of the major issues is that Monsanto received approval for gm food crops by claiming that the process would enhance nutrition and increase yield. There is not one genetic modification for either of these, not one.

    Monsanto markets two modifications, one is resistance to their own Roundup herbicide, and the other is a built in pesticide. Neither of these increase yields or nutritional value.

    At the time of FDA approval the allowable levels of herbicide was very low, lucky for us. But in the intervening years weeds have become resistant to it and now more and more herbicide is used, and chemical companies are asking for approval of crops resistant to stronger herbicides like 2,4-D an ingredient in Agent Orange used as a defoliant in the Viet Nam jungles.

    Last year Monsanto asked for and received approval for an large increase in the residual levels of herbicide found in human food, water, and animal feed. In the case of sugar beets, for example, the increase was over 1,000 times originally approved.

    Judging from other of your blogs, you seem to be intelligent and can see that huge corporations donate heavily to incumbent politicians. Corporations contribute to their lifestyle as politicians and so those politicians are very loyal to those corporations.

    It cannot be more clear, we need to work together to turn this around before it is too late. Passage of this initiative, regardless of the wording (and I agree it is far from perfect), is one small step in that direction. I publish and pay for my own FaceBook page to inform, it has only cost about $1,000 to boost exposure of the posts, but I do not ask for any donations.

    https://www.facebook.com/simplylabelgmos

  6. Ugh. Please read the post before commenting. And obviously no one paid me to write this. Who would pay a random tech blogger to write up their thoughts and research on this issue? I have a respectable reputation in my industry and clearly that does not come from accepting undisclosed payments for the limited writing I do in my spare time. What a bizarre and yes insulting accusation.

    As for the rest, I do not understand why you copied the definition of “genetic engineering” that I referenced in the post. It is exactly as I described. It appears *after* many uses of the undefined term and with no context and no justification for the selection of this particular, narrow definition. This is not my “#1” issue in any sort of ranking. It is the *first* issue encountered upon examining the text of the initiative.

    I’ve been shopping at PCC almost exclusively for months, since I moved near one. I never heard or saw anything about this issue until late this summer. You have a very strange definition of “suspicious.”

    Monsanto’s products represent the largest share of GM crops today, but there are many others. This bill is not about Monsanto. Obviously their crops are designed to increase yield. Solving the corn borer and rootworm problems increases yield.

    You really should take the time to look up facts before spouting off this drivel. The very first GM crop approved in the US was not from Monsanto. Clearly they made no promises to the FDA in order to get them to approve someone else’s product (which was Calgene’s Flavr Savr tomato, engineered to have a longer shelf life).

    Oh, is that why you didn’t provide a source for your ridiculous claim? I would guess so. Here is mine.

    There *are* GM crops modified to increase nutritional value, such as this one. And many more in development or awaiting certification. Golden rice, for example, is a promising development which could save countless children’s lives by helping to solve their vitamin A deficiency.

    Of course, this whole argument is a straw man. No one has ever said that GM products must fulfill one of these two roles. There are a lot of benefits genetic engineering can yield.

    What does your claim about Monsanto and allowed residual herbicide levels have to do with this discussion? We’re talking about consumer-facing GMO labels for *all* GM products (minus the discussed exemptions, of course). Not specific vendors you happen to have a grudge against, or the use and regulation of herbicides. If you’re concerned about herbicide regulations, why aren’t you off fighting that battle?

    But wait! You forgot a source for that tangential argument. And you misrepresented the facts horribly. 2,4-D is the most widely used pesticide/herbicide in the world (source). It is not Agent Orange, and calling it “an ingredient in Agent Orange” is obviously a deliberate attempt to mislead people into thinking it is in some way associated with the poorly understood illness caused by Agent Orange. However, that problem is associated with TCDD contamination of the 2,4,5-T ingredient (source).

    Now I’ve reached the end of your ill-informed rant, where you reveal that you actually run a paid campaign in support of I-522. I just looked at it and it’s full of outright lies and misinformation. And you dare to come on here and throw around accusations and words like propaganda. You should be ashamed.

  7. bruce permalink

    I answered most of these questions of yours already. I pay for the site, it is not “paid” for. You claim I do not read your entire post (which is full of misinformation and yet you quote articles that are obviously written by proponents of gm foods. All of my sources are the Monsanto’s web site.

    The people I am writing for do not shop at PCC who try very hard not to stock foods with gm ingredients.

    Suspicious is that you shop at a store which avoids gm foods and you are trying to defeat a measure, not about the foods themselves, but about labeling them so people have choices.

    The entire golden rice issue is rife with controversy, the flavr savr tomato was a commercial flop.

    Your posts are meant to be insulting, and I am not insulted just amused at your inconsistent comments. My posts to you are asking you questions about what you are doing. You keep burying yourself in the mire of your own words. And that is not an insult unless you take it that way.

    Keep shopping where they do not sell gmo foods and suggesting that others cannot have the same choice.

    There is absolutely nothing in your post about why someone would not want to know what they are buying at the grocery store.

  8. Please point to ONE example of misinformation in my post. Just one. I will immediately make corrections to any errors you can point out. Thus far you haven’t made one sensible objection to anything I wrote. You’ve just wasted my time with more myths and lies I had to debunk.

    I understand that English may not be your first language, but I am completely unable to understand what you’re trying to say about PCC and the people you are writing for. Are you saying you are a spokesperson for PCC?

    Golden rice is “rife with controversy” from anti-science zealots like you who have no interest in facts and object to anything they don’t understand. It’s a noble effort which may save countless lives. It’s still going through the development and testing/certification process, but even if somehow it *doesn’t* work out, it’s still the right idea and countless other in-development products offer similar promise. I can’t begin to fathom why you’re opposed to science saving, extending, and bettering lives.

    PCC *does* sell GMO foods. It just so happens that this law is crafted such that they’ll be minimally impacted by labels. My reason for shopping there is convenience. And that is not at issue here.

    Everyone can shop at PCC. Everyone can look for foods certified non-GMO. This law changes nothing about having the choice to avoid GMO foods if that’s your wish. Again, the post addressed this. If you took the time to read and comprehend it, you would know this. There are voluntary opt-in certification programs like USDA Organic and the Non-GMO Project. These already serve the purpose of giving you the choice you desire, and they’ve been very successful via the free market.

    Regulations need to be based on science and facts, and they need to serve an actual consumer purpose. We cannot institute regulations just to handicap certain companies for the benefit of others.

    I can’t believe I’m wasting my time when you obviously have an agenda here (people don’t run paid ad campaigns without expecting to get something material in return). You deleted my post of factual corrections on your Facebook’s campaign’s page. This betrays the disingenuous nature of your efforts. On the other hand, I have not deleted any of your comments here. I’ve just proven them wrong. Using facts.

    I think I’ll stick with my earlier statement and add that I am now convinced are deliberately misleading people for your personal gain. You should be ashamed.

  9. Phillip permalink

    Excellent. Your thoughts are well written, organized and logical.

  10. Brian permalink

    Wow. You’ve collected the talking points for GMO foods all in place. Great job. Effectively you are stating there is some form of evidence these products have been studied in a meaningful way prior to being placed on the market when there has been every effort to keep outside research into the effect of these organisms on long term gut health. I’m all for science making our lives better but this is far from a proven technology as far as safety is concerned.

  11. Brian, this is not a collection of talking points. This is the result of extensive research I undertook to determine the facts about this issue. The simple fact is, these foods *have* been studied extensively, and *are* proven as safe as conventional foods.

    If you want to disagree, provide evidence. I provided a boatload of it in this post. FDA regulations (and those of many, many other government bodies) exist to ensure these products are tested prior to their release on the market. This process typically takes several years, and involves additional hurdles not required of conventional foods. There are, in fact, suggestions that the current requirements are excessive, and that GMOs *shouldn’t* be singled out for the special requirements currently placed on them. That’s another debate. But to suggest that there is insufficient data about these products to determine their safety (relative to conventional products) requires burying your head in the sand and ignoring the evidence.

    If you don’t believe me, look at the data yourself. Or look at what the AMA, AAAS, WHO, and every other scientific body who’s looked at the data has said. These aren’t industry organizations. They’re scientists.

    I don’t see why you wish to perpetuate myths (such as the myth that the FDA doesn’t regulate GMOs, that GMO processes have not been proven safe, or that specific GMOs on the market are unsafe). If you think even more testing than already exists is required, you need to provide evidence for why this is necessary, and why it would apply only to GMOs and not to organic foods or traditional GE techniques. Thus far, no one has published any scientific evidence to support such things.

  12. Joe permalink

    Brandon,

    It’s all good that you are working to analyze this in a fact-based way. But you come across like a smart individual lost in the details and not with a big picture or check on reality. Overall, importantly, you seem to be looking retrospectively, which is only half of the problem. We create rules of the road to prevent obvious problems of human nature to shortcut and abuse responsibility in order to profit or get a job “done” in some self-serving way.

    We agree – you seem to vehemently – that more information and facts are better. When I think of the labels I currently get with my food – # of calories, “enriched” flour, USDA seal, and such, that is from many decades of working out details and then deciding what to measure, enforce and label and protect the people who are paying for and consuming the product.

    I bought a bag of local beef jerky produced from a local farmer while on a road trip one day last summer. I got to thinking, holy S#%, how do I know what the heck is in there? How did it get made? I could die tomorrow. I never even met the guy. The plastic bag just looked to me like some other kind of jerky I usually eat. I realized, distinctly, that day why these regulations are so productive overall and allows the rest of us not to have to worry about these kinds of problems that can drag us down.

    This initiative 522 is going in the right direction (if people vote yes). And you could say every test so far (which I find hard to believe if we did a ton of research) has come up roses. But by not caring about labeling in this brave new world where mistakes will be made, means I have no idea *tomorrow* what I’m going to get. Like any product development, I’d rather have people thinking and guessing about it in advance and arguing like you are about what exactly should be labeled.

    You could say this legislation should be written differently so lets defeat it now and write it better. But then to what level would this particular tactic and criticism be productive? We need to asses that,

    Nearly by definition, we err in some direction on every decision, always. To me there appears to be enough in this bill to allow us to err on the side of sending the right message, starting a process, making some choices and trying to go where we need to go with this down the road.

  13. Ivana Begley permalink

    Thank you for this post. I voted against I-522, to the chagrin of most of my friends, whose main reason for voting for it was seemingly out of some hatred for Monsanto and the like. Certainly understandable, but not a good enough reason to vote require labeling.

    It reminded me of years ago, when I was working for an ERA campaign. When I expressed frustration at a couple people in our group, someone wisely told me: “No matter how great your cause, the biggest asshole will be on your side.”

    I found that whenever I objected to GMO labeling, people just connected me to those assholes.

  14. taylormattd permalink

    Thank you for this.

    I have a Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry, and worked as a research technician in the University of Washington Department of Microbiology for years before I left the field and (stupidly, lol) went to law school. The amount of ignorance, complete lack of understanding about the basics of genetics, and borderline hysteria on this issue has bugged me for years. It is little different than the anti-vaxxers, imo.

    My favorite part of Bruce’s conspiracy-laden posts here is where he links to a definition of genetic engineering.

    Bruce, can you please explain why any of those recombinant DNA or in-vitro nucleic acid techniques in the definition are bad?

  15. Ann permalink

    I stopped reading after “FDA”. Enough said.

  16. taylormattd permalink

    It’s stunning how alleged progressives loathe regulatory agencies as much as tea party luddites.

  17. Monty Python permalink
  18. bruce permalink

    taylormattd, the text is from the 522 initiative.

    As far as conspiracies, I do not see any and there is nothing “bad” about genetic engineering as far as I know.

    Brandon took my initial remark as “obnoxious, insulting and supremely unhelpful.” It was hardly meant that way.

    Here is my comment:

    “If we talked for ten (mispelled) minutes you would change your mind, unless you are being paid to write this.”

    I did not accuse him, but I was very curious as to why he would spend so much time compiling “evidence” against labeling. His answer was defensive and quite hostile. You who are encouraging him are encouraging his defensiveness and hostility.

    This could be a rational discussion, for some reason those against labeling are hostile and accusatory.

    I do not understand that, I really do not.

    Again, if any of you were really interested and not hostile and defensive, I could change your mind in ten minutes.

    As that probably will not happen, please remember me when 2,4-D resistant corn is approved by the FDA. Then perhaps you and I can talk like compassionate human beings.

  19. Great piece.

    I’m a fellow Seattle-ite and also voted against I-522. My reasons for it are are similar to yours. I wrote them up in an op-ed for The Stranger:

    http://slog.thestranger.com/slog/archives/2013/10/30/no-on-522-label-gmos-but-not-this-way

    That said, I do think that there is so much anti-GMO fear that there’s a case to be made that a more toned down label, in the ingredients section on the back of the box would actually reduce hysteria, remove one of the strongest anti-GMO talking points of the fear-mongers, and lead to greater public acceptance of GMOs.

    I made that case here:

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/collideascape/2013/04/29/why-gmo-supporters-should-embrace-labels/

    Best,
    Ramez

  20. PLEASE stop engaging the trolls! Bruce isn’t even confident enough of his position to use anything but an anonymous account.

    This is an excellent post that does a remarkably good job of getting the publicly available information out there in a readable and non-biased format.

    Personally, I think that over the long run we will find that some modern genetic modifications will have unintended effects, even ones that could be deleterious to human health. However there is no compelling data that shows that NOW. So anyone who believes in science and the scientific process cannot possibly support 522.

    Heck, we learned not to paint our watch faces with radioactive substances, and we found out that asbestos was not great indoors, and lead-based paints had long-term adverse effects.

    But we found them out by applying the scientific process. Not through hysterical and ill-defined legislative action.

  21. Eli permalink

    I just wanted to share this article with you, it contains resources, which you seem to appreciate:
    http://www.organicconsumers.org/articles/article_28288.cfm

  22. Laura permalink

    Hi Brandon,

    While voting is done on I-522, I encourage you to check out this independent organization out of MA for information on pressing issues regarding our food supply: http://www.ucsusa.org/food_and_agriculture/our-failing-food-system/genetic-engineering/

    One thing I’d like to caution you towards is drawing a conclusion without short-term or long-term context. I’ve noticed this behavior more often with those who work in intellectually demanding fields. It’s almost like a problem-solving arrogance that states “if I can figure out this in a couple of days” then “I can figure out everything.” To me, this kind of arrogance is just as dangerous as ignorance.

    If you are opposed to labeling because you feel like GE/GMO foods should not be defined or studied differently, than fine. That’s your rational and I respect it.

    However, whether you like it or not, GE/GMO products are defined by the FDA and the international community. The ballot pulls their definition from that.

    Now, it doesn’t seem like you’ve either studied law or that you have experience getting a ballot initiative approved. A ballot initiative is not a research paper.

    Chris McManus was the bill sponsor but he was not the one who wrote it. Traditionally when initiatives are getting authored, a team pulls together attorneys and experts to help craft a initiative. So taking one lose quote and referencing that here to dismiss the credibility of the bill is irresponsible.

    In regards to the polling data of over 90% support for GE labeling, here are links to multiple polls done by multiple agencies that draw the same support: http://www.centerforfoodsafety.org/issues/976/ge-food-labeling/us-polls-on-ge-food-labeling

    Anyway, I could go point-by-point, but unfortunately I don’t have the time. If you are open to a discussion of why it may be beneficial to have GE/GMO food labeled (as it is defined by the FDA & international community) than let’s have a conversation. You have my email.

    If not, I just ask that you check out the link at the top of this page. It’s a great organization that really captures the social and political nuances around multiple pressing issues.

  23. John permalink

    Brandon: GMO’s are not safe as you say, there is several scientific studies carried out in Europe, (where scientists are not owned by corporations)
    that have shown the negative effects of consuming Genetically Engineered foods , such as low fertility, allergies, cancer, Do you know anyone with these symptoms?
    By the way, corporations created Round up ready, not to feed more people but, but to feed the pockets of their own by selling more Round Up.
    You can try to be as logic and eloquent in your writings, but you cant take off the big “S” from your forehead.
    Do you think that New Zealand, Ireland and Switzerland ban GMO’s just because a group of organic farmers with signs asked for it?
    No!! they know its no good.
    That whole thing of, we need to feed more people is just crap, there is enough land to feed the world, we just need to eat less meat, and grow more vegetables ORGANICALLY! This is possible, but Obviously with people stupid like you, its not going to happen soon.
    If you cant see that the whole thing with GMO’s is not to increase yields and feed more people but to profit more at the environment and people healths expenses, then what can we do? we are screwed with all the people like you. Keep supporting Corporations!, and keep being a smarty pants idiot! Enjoy your GMO’s dude

  24. John, you are just wrong. There are no studies in Europe or anywhere else that even hint that GMOs are unsafe. Not one. If there were, you would be able to cite one. But you can’t. And please don’t reference debunked junk “science” like Séralini’s scam or the claims from the anti-vaccine people. I’m talking about legit, peer-reviewed science. The kind that works.

    A better question is why *would* using a modern GE technique introduce a health problem? You do realize we’re just talking about a process, not a chemical that’s added or anything like that. The process creates genetic changes identical to those achieved through traditional GE techniques. The image in my post above depicts this.

    Other countries do a lot of things we don’t do, for countless reasons. Mostly I would expect that those countries have imposed bans either due to irrational fear (because of myths like the ones you’re peddling) or as a protectionist measure on behalf of their local agricultural industry which lacks the technology to make their own. Maybe both.

    You betray your ignorance by claiming that there is enough food to feed the world. There are nearly a BILLION people in the world suffering from chronic undernourishment. 3.9 million children die annually due to malnutrition according to the World Health Organization. More than 170 million children under 5 have their growth stunted by it. http://www.who.int/nutrition/pressnote_action_on_malnutrition/en/

    You’re being offensively ignorant in these statements and yet call me “stupid” because I support the advancement of science and technology in the pursuit of life-saving and enriching innovations. Never mind that profit motive isn’t a bad thing, you’re also just plain wrong that all GMOs exist to make agricultural companies richer. Golden rice, for example, promises to save many lives and improve countless others, by helping to fight vitamin A deficiency in rice-based societies. You should read up on it. You might be surprised at how non-evil it is.
    http://goldenrice.org/
    This is the sort of wonderful work you’re shitting on.

  25. Joe permalink

    Brandon,

    Could you please explain why this bill was so heavily lobbied against to the tune of $22 million? If a whole lot of regular-folk didn’t clearly want additional information from manufacturers about particular foods, the corporations never would have had to spend so much. Right? Don’t you find that at all off kilter?

    I agree it seemed a little random what should and shouldn’t be labeled as was written in the bill, that could have been better. But I think where you went off track was by trying to justify whether or not GMOs are bad or better/worse than some other thing about foods.

    That showed to be a distraction from what real issue was, which again is labeling. We just want to COME TO OUR OWN CONCLUSIONS on what to buy. This is something ironically you wouldn’t be able to do without similar information.

    Nonetheless, industry folks thought this was important enough to squash at a cost of $22 million (a record) to “put us back right” about it.

    This also reminds me of the near-record $22 million Costco spent to help privatize liquor. In this case I was not against privatizing liquor and I voted affirmatively for it. It is not for Costco to weigh in where I want kids to be able to buy liquor if I care about the local community I live in and how it operates.

    And it is not for Monsanto to help decide what consumers want to know about the techniques they use to make the s%#$ we put into our bodies.

    Our system is losing the intentions of the people and a very critical non-corporate side of decisions.

  26. Joe – Millions were spent by companies supporting 522 as well. And $22 million is nothing for Monsanto. Chump change.

    I do agree we should have less corporate money influencing our elections. But you gave a great example of why money spent by either side doesn’t in any way indicate the validity of said side. I don’t find it even slightly convincing that someone should oppose a side just because it outspent the other.

    The proposed label would not have helped you or I or anyone to determine *anything* about the content of the food it was on. Lots of food without GMOs would have had it, and lots of food with GMOs would not. Even if it were applied accurately and farmers absorbed the cost of certifying their crops GMO-free, it would still give you no information because every GMO is different. A scary label that says “this product may contain red liquids” would be useless but would obviously receive a lot of opposition (probably millions) from tomato farmers, Heinz, etc. It would provide no value to consumers because “contains red liquids” is an arbitrary classification, just like the definition of GM/GE in 522. Two red liquids can share zero chemical makeup, just like two GMOs. If someone finds a legitimate concern with a particular GMO, label things with that.

    When Olestra came out, we required special warning labels for it. That made sense. It was a unique ingredient with legitimate cause for concern (if not health-wise. at least in terms of unpleasant side effects). We didn’t campaign to label all fat substitutes with a “fat substitute” label. Give that some thought.

  27. Joe permalink

    Brandon, thanks for your thoughts. It gives me a lot to think about. I agree that a particular GMO with a particular concern could be called out. I’ll be interested if anyone else who comes across or follows this thread is aware of them and can site which specifically they are.

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